Ditching the Digital Clutter 2: Files

Ditch the Digital Clutter 2 (1)Now that you’ve cleared out your e-mail and are excited by that progress (just remember to stay on top of it), we’ll move on to the files on your computer.  For most of us, digital storage, even in “the cloud”, is not unlimited; at some point, you will run out of space.  But even if you didn’t, even if you could have all the storage you needed and then some, for free, for EVER – would you really want that? The answer (I hope), is a resounding NO.  Just think about it…think back to all of the paper clutter you’ve already purged thanks to KonMari. Think about all of the paper that comes into your house on a regular basis. Now imagine throwing NONE of it away – ever.  I don’t care how neatly you might have it sorted, you do not need nor want every sheet of paper you’ve ever touched. And yet, digitize a file and somehow it becomes acceptable to keep it because it’s not taking up any space. But it is – and more importantly, having all that excess makes it difficult to find the files you actually need, when you need them.

I’m going to focus on how to purge and sort your personal computer, but these can also apply to work machines as well. Odds are your employer would prefer you not clog up precious server storage with lots of junk either. And adhering to some of these suggestions might also keep you from losing files.

Hard Drive and Cloud Storage

Even if you have all of your files on your computer, that might not be the only place you want to save them.  Computers die and with them go your files, so it is a good idea to have a back-up.  You could save to an external drive, but being a mechanical device, it is also prone to fail at some point, so your best bet is to use cloud storage.  Whether you choose to save all files to your hard drive and back up to the cloud, or save directly to the cloud is entirely up to you and likely determined by how old you are.  Digital natives (mainly millennials and younger) would likely never dream of saving to a computer; they are more likely to be cloud folks.  Digital immigrants, however, are less likely to trust something we can’t physically touch, so we tend to store in both.  The steps I will give you will work either way.

If you are using these tips to clean up a work computer, you are probably using server or cloud storage.  Either way, remember that personal files stored on work computers, servers, or cloud storage become the property of your employer and are not private. So it’s best to remove your personal items from your work computer for your own piece of mind.

Time to Purge!

As always, we are going to discard first, sort later.  For reasons I have never understood, some folks like to use their desktop screen as file storage.  Not only does this make for an incredibly cluttered desktop, but it also makes it a little hard to find anything. About the only time I put anything on the desktop is if it is a temporary file, something that I need just for that moment to attach to an e-mail or to download and print. Once I’ve used it, I move it to the trash and get it off my desktop. If you have files or photos on your desktop, trash any that you know you no longer need. Leave what is left and we’ll revisit them later in the process.

Access your file storage (whether hard drive or cloud) and set the window to list or details view instead of thumbnails or icons. This will allow you to see more of what you have at one time.  Also, we want to be able to see not just the name of the file, but the date, type, and size as well.

  • Sort by Date
    • Click on the Date Modified header to sort the list so that the oldest items are on top.
    • Ignore the folders and start with individual documents. These may be text documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc.
    • If you named your files well, it will be easy to tell whether or not you need to keep or delete the item.  If not, well…
      • Open each one item are unsure of
      • If you need to keep it, rename it so that you’ll know what it is
      • If not – delete!
    • Continue through the list of items until you’ve deleted all you do not need

***I am going to address photos in another post, but if you come across ones that you want to delete now, by all means – go for it!

  • Folders
    • Open each folder and follow the same procedure for individual files
    • If you empty an entire folder, delete it

If you are like me, you have files on your computer and files in the cloud. I have computer files, Google Drive files, and Dropbox files.  At the moment, there is no rhyme or reason to this, but as I am sharing these tips with you, I am also cleaning up my own mess.  So if you have multiple file locations, before you do any sorting, you’ll need to go in and follow the procedure above for deleting all of your extraneous documents.  While you are at it, if you have thumb/flash drives laying around, you’ll want to round them up as well. See what’s on each and if there are things you need to save, move them to your computer or cloud storage now for sorting.

Creating Folders and Sorting Files

Now that you’ve cleaned out all of the unnecessary files, it is time to sort them.  You wouldn’t just open a file cabinet and dump papers into the drawer, so you don’t want to do that with digital files either. How you sort your files is going to be determined by how many you have and how detailed you want to be. If you don’t have a lot of files, you might consider creating folders for each year (2016, 2015, etc.) and then just place the files into the corresponding folder.  If that is too broad and you prefer to sort by subject, you can do that instead.  Skim through your files and see which ones seem to naturally belong together.  Maybe you have a lot of recipes,  files related to a hobby, or spreadsheets for tracking expenses.  Create a folder for the group and name it (ex. Recipes), then move all of the related files to that folder.  Continue in that way until most, if not all, of your “loose” files have found a home in a folder.  If you have a few that don’t seem to fit anywhere, I think it is fine to leave them outside a folder.  You might find that later on you add files that can be grouped together to create a new folder.

And just in case you think I forgot, it’s time to go back to your desktop files.  Move them to the new folders you’ve just created. Clean desktop, sorted files…doesn’t that feel good?

Backing Up Your Files

All of this work is for naught if you don’t have your files backed up in some way. If you’re main storage is already on the cloud, then congratulations – you are done here!  But if you just did all of this work to the files that exist only on your computer, then you have a few more steps to go – but they are more than worth it.  There are many free cloud storage options available, and you may already have access through your e-mail provider or operating system.  Most can also be integrated with your computer so that they are accessible as a drive, which makes saving and retrieving files a breeze. Do some research to determine the best cloud storage provider for your needs.  Then set up your account and sync it with your computer. Once that is done, you should easily be able to move or back-up all of the files from your computer to your cloud storage.  Not only will your files be spared from damage to or loss of your computer, but you will have access to those files anytime, anywhere, from any device.  The digital natives in your life will be very impressed!

Maintenance

As with your e-mail, you have to stay on top of this if you don’t want to be drowning in loose files again.

  • Place items on your desktop TEMPORARILY – ideally, for no more than 24 hours. After you’ve done what you need to with the file, trash it.
  • If you have an item you must save, be thoughtful about which folder you put it in so that you can find it easily later.
    • If the file was created by someone else, be careful that you don’t change the file extension as that and render the file useless
    • If you created the file, give it a name that makes sense (moms_applepie)
  • Go back through your files at least once a year and see if you need to purge again. It will be much easier to do going forward now that you’ve done the hard part.

E-mail…check!  Computer and cloud files…check!  What’s next?  Digital photos…

 

If One is Good, More is Better?

20160425_103858Last week in our KonMari Facebook group we were challenged to identify a task we wanted to complete by the end of the week.  As you may have already discovered about me, I’m a big fan of deadlines (most of the time), so I was on board.  My goal was to declutter my desk area.  It’s where I write this blog and pay bills and, even in this digital age, I still have a tremendous amount of paper clutter. (Though I did take five boxes to the shred truck a couple of weeks ago.)  The desk was starting to get overrun and was not the most conducive space for writing, so I started the discard process.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had too many pairs of scissors, so the extra ones went, along with some blank CDs and envelopes, a box of Crayola markers, and half-a-dozen flash drives. I was left with a much more orderly space that invites me to sit and work (or pay).

What didn’t I discard?  Pens. Sharpies. Mechanical pencils.  Apparently, I live by the motto, “If one is good, a bajillion is better.”  Ten tubs of t-shirts. Sixty photo albums. Sixty-seven writing implements.  SIXTY-SEVEN. How many do I use regularly?  Two.  A black ball point that writes beautifully (it was a favor from a wedding I attended last year), and a Bic mechanical pencil. I use them each for different tasks in my planner (yes a paper planner – digital immigrant, not native), and the others I just like to look at.  This total doesn’t even include the box of colored pencils I haven’t opened to go with the adult coloring book I still haven’t opened, or the pencil cup that sits by the phone in the kitchen.  Sixty-seven pens, pencils, and Sharpies at my desk and I use two.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that.

I’m not artistic, but the colored pens make me feel like I could be.  I love to write, and a keyboard makes that so much quicker, but sometimes a pen is more efficient. Mechanical pencils mean there is no need for a sharpener. And Sharpies…well, do they really need any explanation?  The question central to the KonMari method is, “Does this spark joy?” My answer is yes; these pieces spark joy for me.  And I don’t care that I have sixty-seven of them within arm’s reach.  And I don’t think Kondo would care either. Don’t pass judgment on yourself.  The whole point of this tidying-up process is to make your living and/or work space joyful for you.  If that means multiples, so be it.  Four-hundred t-shirts isn’t really working for me anymore, so they are going. But sixty-seven writing implements in varying styles and colors make me happy – so they stay.  In the future, I might decide to part with them (or at least USE them), but for now this is how it stands. The longer you KonMari, the more attuned you become to what’s important to you.  Follow that instinct and you won’t go wrong – even if it means keeping unused Sharpies.

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Sometimes Life Gets in the Way

So, you’ve read the book (or both!), you’re motivated, your tidying festival is underway – and then you have to halt or pause or just take a break.  In a perfect world, everyone and everything in your life would understand that you must KonMari NOW.  You have a goal, and Kondo says that you must do this all at once.  But this is reality and sometimes those outside forces just will not cooperate.  I firmly believe that trying to fight those forces will only lead to frustration and may cause you to give up altogether – or to rebound.  So here are a few tips to help keep you on track, even if life is trying to force you off the rails.

Celebrate Small Accomplishments Along the Way

If you know there is no way you are going to complete your tidying marathon in six months, break it into smaller, easily attainable goals to help you stay motivated. Set a deadline for completing one category (or subcategory) in its entirety.  When that task is complete, take an after picture, post/tweet/Instagram it, share with friends, or just check it off your to-do list. Mark the occasion in some small way so that you will feel that sense of accomplishment and know that you are one step closer to reaching clutter-free nirvana.

Find Like-Minded Individuals to Share With

I was going to say “find a support group”, but this isn’t an illness!  (Although some friends and family might disagree…)  But seriously, having folks with whom to share your victories and your frustrations can have a huge impact on your success.  First of all, they understand the process and know how challenging it can be.  In addition, your fellow KonMari devotees can offer helpful suggestions when you need them.  The Facebook group I belong to has been there to offer encouragement, answer a question, and let me vent. The best part?  You never have to explain, “Well, I read this book about tidying by a Japanese woman…”  We all get it!

Know When to Fold ‘Em

I’m not talking clothes here.  You know you best.  And you know your family and household best as well.  So if you know that starting the next category or subcategory would not be prudent at this time, then don’t. And don’t feel pressured by the book; I know that sounds crazy, but Kondo is so inspirational, that you can almost feel like you are letting her down if you stray from her guidelines.  But here’s the thing – she wants everyone to be successful, so if you know that the only way you’ll be ready to continue is if you take a short break now, then so be it.

This Isn’t Basketball – NO Rebounding

Just because you are taking a break, it doesn’t mean you forget all you have learned and accomplished so far.  Kondo warns that rebounding (going back to all that clutter) is inevitable if you try to do this a little at a time. I understand her point and I even agree; it is very easy to revert if you are not seeing results. But I have to say that my closet, drawers, and kitchen cabinets are still in the same great shape now as they were when I completed those areas months ago. The impact of getting rid of so much stuff still resonates with me. To avoid a rebound it’s vital to maintain the areas that you’ve already completed.  Pick a date to resume the process, and take your break with a clear conscience.

I wish I had been able to KonMari my whole house in six months; I probably would have made it if we hadn’t made the decision to empty the attic and storage unit in the middle of the process.  But at least I’ll know that no stone has been left unturned; everything we own is clearly visible.  And soon there will be much less of it to see.

Does this Spark Joy?

Time to get busy.  It is a full 65 pages into the book before you actually start doing anything, but there is a reason for that.  You have to understand the philosophy behind the KonMari Method. It would do you no good to start on page 66, because you would still be sorting your things the old way – and probably end up keeping way more than you need. So how do you decide what goes and what stays?  If you follow the KonMari Method, you will ask yourself one question while holding the item in your hand – “Does this spark joy?” Kondo’s rule is simple – if the answer is yes, keep it, but if the answer is no, to the discard pile it goes.  I will admit this sounded a little odd to me, as did thanking each item before I sent it on its way.  But I do believe her advice is sound and helps you to focus more on what you want to keep rather than what you want to get rid of.  I will admit, however, that just having that question in my head make it much easier when I began to go through my things.

20150902_104427Clothing is the first category Kondo tackles and here is her direction: Place every item of clothing in the house on the floor.  And she means everything.  Empty every closet, every drawer, tub, or bin that contains articles of clothing.  Hmmm… I liked this idea in theory, and if I lived alone or if Marie Kondo herself was sitting there with me, I might have done that.  Instead, I opted for a modified version.  I started with emptying my closet and after working through all of the items there, moved on to dressers and out of season tubs.  Did I hold each item in my hands?  You kind of have no choice.  Did I ask myself the joy question for each item?  I didn’t really have to; I had in my head if it didn’t spark joy it was going.  Did I thank the items for their service? No – but I did clear out a lot of stuff and did not feel the least bit guilty doing it.  And while it may sound odd to ask yourself if a pair of jeans or a scarf brings you joy, think about it for a minute.  Odds are you wear the same pieces over and over again.  Why?  Because you like the way they look and the way they make you feel.  You’ve likely been wearing only the clothing that brings you joy all along…

The closet was a piece of cake for me. Dressers, drawers, and tubs a little more daunting but it all got done and in relatively short order, too.  And I no longer need a place to store out of season items; discarding gave me more space. My donation pile was sizable; Goodwill was going to be getting a pretty good selection of items!  But beyond that, I truly did start to feel lighter.  Cleaning out, freeing up space in your environment really can have an impact on your physical and emotional self. Kondo describes this in her book as well.  I think it’s important to realize that this isn’t just about having organized closets and a neater home.  It is about finding the things that bring you joy in all aspects of life – this is just the first step of the journey.

 

The Book

978-1-60774-730-7The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. As soon as I got home I began reading.   Now, organizing is pretty much second nature for me, so I’ve never spent a lot of time learning how to do it. Sure, I’ve read magazine articles and watched morning and talk television, but there really hadn’t been anything new there.   Sort your items – keep, sell, toss/donate.  Get rid of clothing you haven’t worn in a year.  Turn your hangers a different direction to show what’s been worn.  Go room by room.  Buy cute bins, baskets, and tubs to neatly store all your clutter.  Pretty standard fare.  But what I discovered in Kondo’s book was completely different from anything I had ever read before.  For Kondo, it’s not just about organizing your items, but about decluttering and tidying every physical aspect of your home and work space so that it never has to be done again.  In so doing, you may notice transformations in the rest of your life as well.

I finished the book the next day.  I’m a fast reader anyway, but I was anxious to get started. I was energized and excited because Kondo’s method, the KonMari Method, was going to be exactly what I needed to tackle this whole house decluttering project – and make it stick.  There are some key differences between KonMari and traditional methods of decluttering and organizing.  First, she does not advocate going room-by-room; rather, you work by category (clothing, books, papers, etc.), and only one category at a time.  Next you discard.  Finally, you store things in their proper place.  Obviously I am simplifying here because if you are really interested in the how-to of this, you need to read the book. But I do believe that her approach is probably the best way to declutter, organize, and take control of your home and your life.

So excited was I by the changes and progress I was making, that I was dragging my friends into my bedroom to show them my dresser drawers!  They smiled and nodded as I showed them the proper way to fold (also covered in the book).  But they really don’t share my level of enthusiasm.  Fortunately, there are other folks out there like me, and I found a great group on Facebook to join.  It’s a place to ask questions, find encouragement, and share successes.  Kondo recently published a companion book, Spark Joy, an illustrated guide book, with more detail and answers to questions that arose from the first book.  I own it as well.  So just know that if you start this journey, you will have no shortage of support.

I hope you’ll join me as I recount for you my KonMari journey.  There is a line in The Life-Changing Magic…”The moment you start you reset your life”.  She is absolutely right.

 

How it Began

In June of 2015, I retired from a thirty-year career in education. Immediately, everyone wanted to know what I was going to do with my time.  I wasn’t one-hundred percent certain of anything, but I knew there were plenty of projects waiting for me around the house. You know, all those things that you start but can’t finish because the weekend, break, or summer vacation isn’t long enough.  Being a teacher though, my first order of business was simply to enjoy my summer vacation as I always had; that meant a trip to the bookstore.

I picked up an adult coloring book that I thought would be perfect for cold winter days in front of the fire (still in pristine condition, by the way), and a couple of perfect summer reads set in the beach towns of the the Northeast. As I was heading to the check-out counter, the title of a rather small book caught my eye – the life changing magic of tidying up. I scanned a few pages and was immediately hooked.  This book was coming home with me.